Meanwhile, the idea that governments may one day limit family size (however offspring are conceived) has been thrown into the bear pit by Jonathon Porritt, chair of Downing St.'s Commission on Sustainable Development. "I'm unapologetic about asking people to connect their responsibility for their total environmental footprint – how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate," he said in an interview this week.
Porritt accused politicians and environmentalists of dodging the question: "It's the ghost at the table. We have all these big issues that everybody is looking at and you don't really hear anyone say the `p' word." His commission will release a report next month calling for the government to boost family planning, even if it means shifting money from other parts of the health system into contraception and abortion – or "birth averting," as Porritt generally calls it.
"`Births averted' is probably the single most substantial and cost-effective intervention that governments could be using," he has written. He's also said approvingly of China's notorious one-child family policy that "at least 400 million births have been averted ... that's the biggest single CO2 (carbon dioxide) abatement achievement since Kyoto."
Human rights critics note that the policy, initiated in 1979, has also led to forced abortion and sterilization, infanticide, child abandonment and a disparity between males and females: 118 boys to 100 girls overall; in some rural pockets, 165 to 100. A generation of so-called "little emperors" has led to increased crime, including rape and abduction of females for brides. (The vice-minister of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission said in London last year that "we want incrementally to have this change. I cannot answer at what time or how." Analysts estimate at least a decade.)
Editorial writers snorted at Porritt's attempt to open a debate on population control. A Conservative MP dismissed the idea as "absolutely barmy." But one reader wrote The Times: "If the future of our species is in jeopardy then it is the duty of our governments to do whatever is necessary to ensure our future."But was Porritt actually talking about the risks of over-population in the developing world?Absolutely not, says York University environmentalist David Bell. The amount of environmental damage caused by eight North Americans equals 160 people in the Third World, he says."The carrying capacity of the planet is limited. Our ecological footprint – how much biosphere it takes to support one individual – is 10 to 20 times higher here. If everyone lived at that rate, we'd need three or more Earths."
A debate on population limits is valid, says Bell, even in geographically wide-open Canada. But he adds that an attempt last year by the province to look at the implications of 10 million people crowded into southern Ontario collapsed amid charges of immigration control. What Porritt is suggesting is hugely controversial, Bell says, "but it's a reality." It took all of human history for the world to reach a population of 2.5 billion in 1950. A century later, in 2050, it's expected to be a staggering 9 to 10 billion.
Strange that this discussion is happening now when the population in most western countries (with the exception of Israel and US) is declining faster than it is reproducing, and the trend for the last twenty years has been couples choosing two or less children per family unit, and with a far greater number of couples now opting for childlessness than at any other time in human history.
It is even more peculiar given that the next 20 years western countries are going to experience the largest single population drop outside of war or natural disasters as the baby boomers die off. Even in Toronto, the public school board has been experiencing a steady drop in the number of children entering the school system. Far more young people are graduating out then children are coming in. If the earth’s population is actually going to reach 9 to 10 billion by 2050 I sincerely doubt you will find western countries leading the baby boom but even more annoying to me is this new kind of disaster mongering journalism which refuses to even examine an issue critically.